Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Biden: Black female Supreme Court judge ‘long overdue’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden strongly confirmed Thursday that he will nominate the first black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying such historic representation is “long overdue” and promising to announce his choice by the end of February.

At a White House ceremony commemorating the nation’s transition, Biden praised outgoing Justice Steven Breuer, who will have spent almost 28 years on the Supreme Court by the time he leaves his term, as “an exemplary public servant at a time of great division in this country.”

And thus the search for a replacement for Breuer was in full swing. Biden promised a candidate worthy of Breuer’s legacy and said he had already researched the background and writings of potential candidates.

“I have not made any decision, except for one thing: the person I appoint will be a person of outstanding qualities, character and integrity,” he said. “And this person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is high time”.

Biden’s choice will be historic in itself: no black woman has ever served on the high court. It is also noteworthy that this decision came at a time of national reckoning for racial and gender inequality. However, the court’s conservative 6-3 majority is destined to remain intact.

Biden is using his pick to deliver on one of his early campaign promises that helped revive his moribund primary campaign and propel him into the White House in 2020.

And it gives him chance to show black voters, who are increasingly disillusioned with the president they helped elect that he takes their concerns seriously, especially with his voting rights bill stalled in the Senate. It could also fuel Democrat enthusiasm amid fears of an interim defeat in the congressional races.

Biden spent his first year in office working to nominate a diverse group of judges to the federal bench, not just in racing but in professional skills, and along the way, he considered possible nominees for the Supreme Court. He has appointed five black women to the federal courts of appeals, from which many high court judges have come out, and three more nominations are pending in the Senate.

Retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (left) listens to President Joe Biden’s speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. January 27, 2022.

Saul Loeb via Getty Images

As a senator, he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for several years, so he is intimately familiar with the nomination process, having overseen six Supreme Court confirmation hearings. One person who will play a central role in Biden’s selection process is chief of staff Ron Klein, a former Supreme Court clerk and chief adviser to the Judiciary Committee.

The president has already met in person with at least one top candidate, Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51. She is a former Clerk of Breyer, served on the US Sentencing Commission, and has been a federal trial court judge for the District of Columbia since 2013. They met when Biden interviewed her for her current position as judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, where she has served since June last year.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, D.C. District Judge nominee, testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, D.C. District Judge nominee, testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Tom Williams via Getty Images

Early discussions about a successor focused on Jackson, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Krueger, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the White House discussion. Jackson and Krueger have long been considered as possible candidates.

Childs, a federal judge in South Carolina, has been nominated but not yet confirmed to serve on the same circuit court. She is a favorite among some top legislators, including Rep. James Clyburn, DS.C. Her confirmation in the federal board of appeals is expected next week.

Krueger, a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School, was previously a Supreme Court clerk and appeared before judges in a dozen cases as a federal government lawyer.

Biden also personally interviewed several other possible candidates, including Eunice Lee and Candice Jackson-Akivumi. Both women have experience as criminal defense lawyers and could diversify their range of legal expertise in the high court, where many judges have served in the prosecution or academia. Biden spoke to the two about their recent federal court appointments.

On Thursday in the Roosevelt Chamber, Biden spoke wistfully about presiding over Breyer’s 1994 ascension to court. He praised the legacy of justice and highlighted Breuer’s views on reproductive rights, health care and voting rights, calling it “sensitive and subtle”.

“Judge Breyer was everything his country could ask of him,” he said.

Breuer, in brief remarks, praised the “miracle” of American constitutional democracy and reminded a nation torn by partisan divisions and last year’s Capitol uprising that the government’s “experiment” was not yet over.

“This is a difficult country,” he said, leaning on the pulpit. He added: “People have come to accept this Constitution, and they have come to recognize the importance of the rule of law.”

Recalling the subject of frequent conversations with students, the outgoing judge noted that in the early days of the country’s existence, European powers doubted that it could survive, and during the horrors of the Civil War, it seemed that the United States might not survive.

“They look here and say that in principle this is a great idea, that it will never work,” Breyer said. But we will show them that it is. That’s what Washington thought, that’s what Lincoln thought, and that’s how people think to this day.”

“This is an experiment that is still ongoing,” he added, adding that future generations will see if the government can deliver on its promise. “They will determine if the experiment is still working. And, of course, I am an optimist, and I am almost sure that it will be so.”

Republicans, who changed the rules of the Senate in the Trump era to allow the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees by a simple majority, appear to have resigned themselves to the result in the current divided house. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, RK.Y., said he hoped Biden would not “refer this important decision to the radical left.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after Breyer’s announcement that his successor “should be someone from the mainstream legal mainstream who can get similar broad bipartisan support.”

Grassley voted against Jackson’s confirmation on the D.C. Court of Appeals, as well as most of Biden’s other appeals court nominees.

Associated Press contributor Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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